It's no shocker that more and more people are feeling the financial squeeze, being a freelancer, with no real steady and reliable income, just sets you up for endless financial stress.
I have recently talked openly about several logo design projects where the clients have failed to settle the outstanding balance. Leaving me considerably short changed and generally very pissed off.
I should add here that these non-paying clients were overseas, not based in the UK. This poses significant problems with taking legal action. As far as I know, it's practically impossible to enforce payment from clients not residing in the country you work from.
I'm not saying that all UK clients are always angelic when it comes to getting payment. I am focusing on the direct complications with overseas clients and the restrictions of a contract that is only really worth anything for the country it was originated in.
Lawyers and Solicitors
If there are any international copyright lawyers who read this who can offer up anything to the contrary, then would love to hear from you.
Bear in mind, most freelancers don't have the financial means to hire a lawyer, let alone continue to pay for the services of one during a dispute.
My point here is, don't put all your trust into a contract, not matter how well written it is. Unless you have money to spare to fund a lawyer when a contractual issue arises, you are unlikely to really get any benefit from it at that time.
A contract is like a low key anti theft lock for a car. It will deter the casual and opportunist, but unlikely to deter a hard nose, thick skinned manipulative individual.
Yes, I am generally this cynical.
A contract is all well and good, but its mostly just words wrapped up to look 'mean'. Trying to enforce a contract when you are a solo freelancer, with limited time and resources, can prove to be overwhelming. The contract is 'peace of mind' but is not bullet proof.
So having been at the end of 3 significant loses, enough to put me 3 months behind on my mortgage and other bills, something had to be done. I have had enough of the minority who seem to think it's 'no big deal' to screw over a hard working creative.
As a designer, presenting work, ideas and concepts is liking baring your soul. It's a pretty risky adventure.
I decided that I could no longer swallow all this lost time and money. It's not just that you don't get paid, if the project you are working one is a big one, you may be involved with that project for many weeks. In that time, you are likely to have to put other clients off, especially if they need work ASAP.
Not to mention the clients that you had to 'pass on' when you took on this big new project. You knew you would need to focus all your energies on this one project. So in effect, you have now not just lost this one big client, but you have turned down what would probably of been, genuine and honest paying clients.
It's a big loss when a client from big project, refuses to pay, the repercussions are felt further away than you might initially think.
Full Payment Please
The only viable option, other than refusing to do any non-UK client work was to ask for full payment up front. To eliminate all risk of non payment further down the line.
I did toy with increasing the deposit to 50% to even 75%. But this in itself poses problems. You have a bigger deposit, but one could argue it gives less reason for less honest clients to settle up the balance.
You may not lose out as much, but you are still risking the struggle of collecting the balance. This is not just financially bad, it affects your very soul, your motivation. When it happens consecutively, then it can become a significant psychological challenge.
I did realise that I could potentially lose out to clients unprepared to pay the full amount prior to completion. But my thinking was then I was probably better free of any client who has a problem parting with any money.
Now they must trust you
The coin has now flipped. You can't expect all clients to then trust all designers who ask for full payment up front. There are restrictions to this method.
Clients will feel far more 'at ease' to part with full payment if they can see who you are, how you work, how you operate, how transparent you are in your business and online social activities.
They will feel more 'comforted' if they see a portfolio of quality work and bigger name companies or brands. They will be more assured if you can provide solid reasons as to why 'trying to pull a fast one with a client' would be creative suicide.
Fortunately for me, I am pretty transparent in all the above. I am everywhere you can possibly be online. I make a point of showing aspects of my professional life with my personal life.
Clients will be happier to work with someone they can at least get a feel for, even if they can't meet in real life. In the absence of real life meetings, you must provide alternatives, video chat and phone calls to name but two.
From the work I have put into ImJustCreative and social media over the last few years, I am able to now present myself as a honest and genuine designer. This gives me a better chance to convince clients that I am a 'safe bet' when they are considering paying the full amount prior to the project starting.
You need to take charge and convince yourself and potential new clients that you are worth investing in.
That the client needs to appreciate exactly how much work, how much experience you are investing in creating a logo design for them. That to then show this work prior to receiving full payment is a huge risk. Once you can do that, then asking for full payment does not seem so unreasonable after all.
I have been comforted to see that recently, clients have been more than happy to pay the full balance. This has renewed my sense of trust in others. The sense of relief and comfort I now have with current non UK clients is a breath of fresh air.
I can now focus entirely on the project at hand and put aside any lingering doubts about the collection of money owed towards the end of the project.
I cannot stress enough how much getting full payment up front eases the financial burden and allows you to really focus on the work at hand. Everyone wins.
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Graham Smith: 10 Badgers Copse, Seaford, East Sussex, England.
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